OPINION

A need for control

The Greek people know that the last years of the Socialist administration under Costas Simitis saw a monstrous squandering of public funds. The political establishment turned a blind eye to the unchecked spending, which peaked with the organization of the Olympic Games held in Athens last summer. All kinds of irrelevant events received lavish funding under the pretext that they helped advertise Greece’s image to the world. The squandering of public wealth continued to spiral out of control when 10 million euros was spent for Greece’s participation at the Frankfurt Book Fair. A great chunk of public funds also went toward arms purchases, with Greece’s defense spending reaching unnerving proportions between 2000 and 2004. Indeed, Greece became the third-biggest spender on conventional weapons, behind the far more populous China and India. It invested a total of 5.2 billion dollars (4.28 billion euros) on arms procurements, some 2 billion more than Turkey. It became clear that middlemen conducted these deals after a series of offshore firms became embroiled in a legal scandal over the Greek government’s purchase of German-made tanks. The very presence of these middlemen suggests corruption, since they were evidently unnecessary. But, as we have known for years, all major arms sales are made on the basis of inter-state agreements. Middlemen have never done anything but distribute kickbacks. The sorry state of our fiscal affairs shows how hard the squandering of public funds has hit our country. When it comes to our defense sector, the cost has been even heavier since we have evidently failed to acquire appropriate and effective arms systems. The public sees the current lack of funds and the evidence of wasted money. They are now wondering if anyone will investigate what happened. Will the judiciary conduct a probe to discover where these billions of euros went so we can determine how many of the purchases were actually necessary? Will we ever discover to what extent the fees paid by our government corresponded to the market rate and how much they were inflated to include various commission payments? When public funds are being frittered away, no one has the right to turn a blind eye. Even if we want to turn over a new leaf and avoid giving out punishment, an objective investigation by an unimpeachable third party is crucial. As long as the transgressions of the past remain hidden, there is always the risk that they will be repeated in the future.